ON February 13 the UK’s Strategic Rail Authority announced that it had agreed terms for two-year extensions of three more passenger train operating franchises, taking them to March 31 2006. SRA has signed a deal with National Express Group covering the Wessex Trains franchise and the Great Northern section of WAGN, and another with GOVIA for its Thameslink operations.

GOVIA will pay premia of around £40m a year for the right to operate Thameslink. In preparation for CTRL works at St Pancras which will split the cross-London route for six months, a new depot is to be built at Bedford. The Thameslink fleet will be increased to relieve overcrowding, with 19 dual-system Class 319 EMUs transferred from South Central and 12 AC-only Class 317 units from WAGN.

GN is being run by NEG under a fixed subsidy agreement, pending SRA’s plans to merge it with Thameslink. To augment capacity on services to Cambridge and Peterborough, the GN fleet will gain 16 Class 365 sets from South Eastern Trains. Wessex will get a subsidy of £71m a year.

SRA signed a formal contract with NEG on January 30 for the operation of the Greater Anglia franchise (RG 2.04 p63). The previous day it had invited expressions of interest for a replacement of the InterCity East Coast franchise currently operated by GNER and launched a further consultation document on the specification of services to be operated by the Integrated Kent franchise, which is due to take over from South Eastern Trains in early 2005. n

CAPTION: TransPennine Express Managing Director Vernon Barker (left) and SRA franchise manager Gary Backler (right) officially launched the First/Keolis-operated franchise by flagging away a TPE service from Manchester Airport station on February 1